While “Midtown” is a relatively new term for the popular Reno district it denotes, the neighborhood itself has been a busy commercial and residential area for nearly a century. Roughly bounded by Liberty Street and Plumb Lane on the north and south, Arlington Avenue and Holcomb Avenue on the west and east, today’s Midtown District is a place of innovation and revitalization, but also of longstanding history and architectural charm.
For decades, Plumb Lane marked the southern edge of urban development, and to its north, comfortable single-family homes were fronted by grassy lawns and abundant trees. Change arrived in the 1920s with the arrival of South Virginia Street’s first commercial buildings. Some were single-story neighborhood markets. Others were service stations, cropping up to cater to the increasing numbers of automobiles traveling along what was then the north-south highway through town. Many were two stories high, with shops or cafés on the ground floor and apartments above. Almost all were made of brick, Reno’s signature building material, and several were designed by Nevada’s premier architect, Frederic DeLongchamps.
As Reno grew and its casinos expanded, resident-oriented businesses increasingly sought out the more spacious environs of South Virginia Street. From the 1930s through 1960s, the corridor gradually transformed into a bustling urban thoroughfare, with charming family-oriented motels joining the landscape in the 1950s. Before long, commercial buildings outnumbered houses, and residents flocked to the area’s shops, restaurants, and services.
This stretch of South Virginia Street lost its status as the North-South highway through town with the construction of Highway 580, several blocks to the east. By 1981, drivers could take 580 all the way from Interstate 80 southward to an exit on South Virginia Street near McCarran Boulevard. Almost immediately, this stretch of South Virginia Street transformed from a highway to a surface street, bypassed by the majority of through traffic.
The area now known as Midtown went into a period of decline, not abandoned but certainly neglected, no longer oriented toward pedestrians, tourists, or everyday shoppers. Its revival, beginning in the early 2000s, marked a new era for this established neighborhood, once more teeming with life, vitality, and entrepreneurialism.
The entries for this tour were produced with the support of RTC Washoe.